Social capital, income inequality, and self-rated health in 45 countries

Carol Mansyur, Benjamin C Amick, Ronald B Harrist, Luisa Franzini
Social Science & Medicine 2008, 66 (1): 43-56
There has been growing interest in the relationship between the social environment and health. Among the concepts that have emerged over the past decade to examine this relationship are socio-economic inequality and social capital. Using data from the World Values Survey and the World Bank, we tested the hypothesis that self-rated health is affected by social capital and income inequality cross-nationally. The merit of our approach was that we used multilevel methods in a larger and more diverse sample of countries than used previously. Our results indicated that, for a large number of diverse countries, commonly used measures of social capital and income inequality had strong compositional effects on self-rated health, but inconsistent contextual effects, depending on the countries included. Cross-level interactions suggested that contextual measures can moderate the effect of compositional measures on self-rated health. Sensitivity tests indicated that effects varied in different subsets of countries. Future research should examine country-specific characteristics, such as differences in cultural values or norms, which may influence the relationships between social capital, income inequality, and health.

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